Sleep and Effectiveness

It may sound elemental, but experience indicates it is anything but that - people are running too lean on rest, and it's crippling their capacity to succeed and thrive at work and at home!


“Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” Vince Lombardi

The Jury is in: We’re not getting enough sleep

The sleep deprived function less effectively than the well-rested. It’s been estimated that people get about 2 hours less of sleep in the 21st century than they did in the 19th century. And about 30% of the population gets inadequate sleep (≤ 6 hours). For some, it’s a badge of honor to work longer hours and run lean on sleep. Of course, this is delusional and it soon catches up with them. The current state of the workplace is not sustainable.

Not only do many of us work longer hours than we should, we are tethered to our smart phones. And what we know from research is that smart phone use is negatively associated with duration and quality of sleep. Even 2 hours less of sleep is enough to boost of stress levels and impair performance. On-the-job sleepiness and fatigue are negatively associated with executive skills, interpersonal behaviors, and health.

Here’s a sample of recent research findings[1] linking poor sleep[2] to adverse effects on performance and health:

 Recent research findings relating poor sleep to Performance and Well-Being.

Recent research findings relating poor sleep to Performance and Well-Being.

What Can We Do?

Of course, the first order of business is to recognize you are not Super Man or Woman. But beyond that it’s important to gain perspective. If you’ve been at the mercy of a “whatever it takes” work ethic for long, you have lost control, and you need to regain it. The way you do that is by engaging with a helpful other, examining in dialogue what is driving your current behavior – some of it is probably rather irrational.

Action (versus activity) is purposive, rationally considered, freely chosen. Running without adequate sleep does enhance action; it's usually the result of surrendering our freedom and rationality to unconscious drives. These drives are not reasonable. They arise from fears and are based on faulty assumptions and beliefs. In any case, they are patently unsustainable. So, you can either crash and burn, or take a step back.

For tips on how to develop a healthy sleep regimen, I would refer you to the National Sleep Foundation. But that's the technical aspect of this problem. The harder work will be gaining insight into the unconscious drives and habits that govern your life, induce fears, and cause you to lose rational control over your life, and then changing these habits. It will all feel daunting if not impossible until you start making the change. You can do it!


[1] K. Nowak, Sleep, Emotional Intelligence, and Interpersonal Effectiveness: Natural Bedfellows, Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 2017, Vol. 69, No. 2, 66–79.

[2] National Health Interview Survey where nearly 30% of adults reported getting inadequate sleep, defined as ≤ 6 hours of sleep per day: Schoenborn & Adams, Health behaviors of adults: United States, 2005–2007. Vital and Health Statistics. Series, 10, Data from the National Health Survey, 2010, 1–132.

We Are Not Merely Homo Sapiens

 Jose Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955)

Jose Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955)

Life is More Than Intellect

Contrary to a tradition of "intellectualism" in the West, Jose Ortega y Gasset, one of the most insightful social philosophers of the 20th Century, proposed that we're not best defined by our capacity "to know" but by our capacity to not know, our capacity for ignorance. Not knowing sparks active, adaptive ways of being, it stimulates practical thinking and a quality of mind that makes a difference in the world. 

Ortega's challenge to intellectualism was not an endorsement of mere doing or rote activity. When he characterized thought, he did so in recognition that thoughts are more than bare, logical concepts. Thought in its full reality includes feeling tones, intuition, reflective pauses, and moral considerations of what is good, right, proper. It's not just activity; it asserts our agency. It's "vital reason." 

A Philosophy of Life

Action is not a random fisticuffs with the things around us or with our fellow men...Action is to act upon the environment of material things or of other men in accordance with a plan preconceived in a previous period of meditation or thought. There is, then, no genuine action if there is no thought, and there is no authentic thought if it is not duly referred to action and made virile by its relation to action."  (Man and People)

Ortega was an eminently practical philosopher and citizen. Beyond being an esteemed scholar and thoroughly engaged with the best minds of his time throughout Europe, he was actively engaged in promoting a free republican form of government in Spain. He served in Parliament and lived in exile after the civil war. During his life, he witnessed the effects of Fascism and the way it relied on fanning flames of fear, ressentiment, and anger rather than encouraging optimism, hope, and freedom.

He and his philosophy emphasize the potential of the human spirit. Unlike some who were wont to see history as an inevitable forward movement of progress, Ortega believed cultural virtues and historic achievements are earned. And they must be earned afresh in each generation, for we are always at risk of losing them. The perennial task of civilization is aided by the traditions and institutions we create and sustain from one generation to the next. But this, too, is an active responsibility. It doesn’t just happen.

Now, Consider Your Philosophy

Consider just how timeless and relevant these thoughts are in our present age. They are not only applicable to the social and political arena, they're relevant to our organizational endeavors in for-profit and not-for-profit enterprises. Missions must be lived out through action to be realized. Leadership careers, too, must be lived and actualized in action. We have a fresh opportunity to make a difference each day as citizens, as workers, and as leaders. And we are not alone. We pursue our work along with relationships of love and friendship.

And when our time has come - the end of a career or life - we can relish the joy of our relationships and know that we've left the world a better place. And there are other transcendent, spiritual considerations, including our diverse religious beliefs as a people, which may add still more to our personal experience of this drama of human life and history. And the great thing is that we can all pursue those pathways too, even as we align with a common vision of life and virtue in the secular realm of a historically constructed social and political world.  

The way we choose to live is up to us. But as Seneca, the Ancient Roman philosopher suggests, we can seek the counsel of the luminaries and voices of the past - like Plato, St. Augustine, or Ortega y Gasset - as we reflect on life's meaning and possibilities. Unlike other friends, they are there when we want them, available to us no matter what we're wearing or how we might be feeling. And they're happy to be heard not just once but as frequently as you wish. So, we may pursue our philosophy of life with freedom and independence, but also in the company of endlessly stimulating conversations. 

Making and Keeping Commitments

Keeping commitments, like keeping promises, has practical and ethical implications throughout our life. None of us are spared this duty, and all of us will be judged for how well we fulfill it. Although I approach this theme with the workplace in mind, there is little in it that does not apply equally to relationships and role-based responsibilities outside of work.

Commitment 2.jpg

Commitment: It's about what happens when the honeymoon is over.

One of the most appreciated qualities we can cultivate in life is a pattern of keeping our commitments. A fortunate few among us seem to have learned this lesson well early in life. In them it seems natural, and we’re tempted to take it for granted like their blue eyes. But let me assure you, no one is able to sustain this pattern without effort and care, especially as our roles in life become more complicated. 

Then, upon closer inspection, we notice it’s their judgment in making commitments that helps explain their ability to keep commitments. As they advance in life and career, they too face growing demands. Many of these are the role-based demands that we take on as a partner or spouse, a leader or parent, or simply as a colleague or vital team member. We all get busier in this way! 

The Cost of Breaking Commitments

Keeping our commitments expresses respect. As we do so over time, this ethic becomes a sincere and abiding aspect our personality and presence. We become the person others believe, someone they can count on. Good judgment in making these commitments implies a readiness to make sacrifices, perhaps decline opportunities. The fidelity of our actions cause us to be seen as thoughtful and generous.

When we easily make and break commitments we lose credibility. We reveal ourselves as persons less worthy of trust. And if these are the ways we treat others – if it becomes our de facto norms – well, we shouldn’t be surprised when we receive the same treatment in return. We shouldn’t be surprised when we are taken for granted, and when we’re no longer able to count on one another.  

We need not get moralistic about these matters to see that our judgment and conduct have ethical implications. Actions have consequences. They tell a story about who we are, what we value, about our reliability and maturity. By the time we’re in our 30’s, shouldn’t others expect that we’ve gained greater control over our moods and impulses, that we’re more able to consider others and keep promises. 

The Benefits of Making & Keeping Commitments

Some of the more obvious benefits flow from minimizing the costs of breaking commitments. But that’s the low hanging fruit. Learning how to consistently keep commitments promotes skill development of other kinds. We must consider our strategic priorities and be more intentional. We must, especially as leaders, learn to leverage the capabilities of others. And we must learn to say no. 

These are modes of deliberation, perspective-taking, and prudential judgment that become practiced and intuitive over time. So, to become intelligently intuitive – not the “cheap” version, which is flying by the seat of our pants – we must resist the impulse to make commitments too easily. This processing requires that we also listen and learn from our feelings. It’s not a cold mechanical calculus. 

This is a practical art. By recognizing our need to be selective and discriminating, we cultivate powers of discernment. We listen. We inquire. We feel something – a positive pull or negative aversion, a sense of confusion or hesitancy. We listen to and use these affective data; we don’t react rashly. We take risks but we also learn to differentiate a true crisis and genuine urgency from desperate reactivity. 

Getting it Right 

The practical skills of deliberation and judgment we just examined mark the development of wisdom and maturity. In the language of psychology, these sophisticated, higher-level abilities to organize and order our conduct are called the executive function. Whether or not you play an executive role at work, your executive function will usually explain much of your success. 

What’s interesting is the way cognitive, affective, and interpersonal resources grow and converge to express a mature executive function. This plays out differently in all of us - partly due to differences in temperament and personality. But it is also affected by the social-organizational context within which we take our roles and define our purposes and accountabilities. 

And this brings us full circle to our starting point. Some of us are advantaged in our ability to prudently make commitments and dutifully keep commitments. But these capabilities will be further challenged as we take new roles of responsibility in the course of adult development. Therefore, the task of cultivating executive maturity applies to all of us, and we all have the standard equipment to do it.

Connecting Hard & Soft in Practice

Hard and Soft.jpg

Hard and soft, doing and feeling, task and relationship – there are many ways to talk about these aspects of work. We could examine how they are differentiated or characterized in theory, and how each contributes to productivity, morale, and a sustainable culture that attracts great talent. And few would not concede the importance of linking hard to soft.

Most in management understand that neglecting the soft can make a workplace unattractive, even toxic. Still, management has little appetite for in-depth conceptual analysis of what hard and soft are, and why they’re important. So, I found myself thinking of an eminently simple way to bridge hard and soft in practice that gives hard-headed pragmatists reasons to care, but also give them guidance on how to realize it.

Start by Characterizing the Task

Pragmatism is a belief that we can best evaluate the validity of an idea or the efficacy of a strategy by considering how well it enables us to achieve our desired outcome. So, what is the task, and even more important, what is the outcome goal? What is the course of action that will achieve this goal? Who are the individuals (by name or role) who must contribute and coordinate their actions to realize this end?

If you really want a robust vision of the “hard” side of the task at hand, you might also ask about the potential risks or barriers and how you will mitigate and address them. You might also assess the essential skills, resources, and technical practices that must be mastered to execute the task well. All of this begins to flush out the larger scheme of things that must be brought under managerial control.

Then Identify the Soft Variables

What is it that could impede collaboration, motivation, and performance from a social-emotional point of view? For example, it’s important that we feel respected, heard, and understood if we’re to rely upon one another’s best efforts, right? How might these expectations be honored or offended in the work process, and how might conditions of stress, strain, and fatigue manifest and affect this behavior?

Just as we raised the question of bringing task-oriented variables of performance under managerial control, we must discuss how we’ll monitor these “soft” aspects of how we work together. We must find ways to attend to and notice how our interactions satisfy our mutual needs for feeling respected, heard, and understood. Especially as time pressures build and emotions intensify.

Creating Opportunities to Notice

Operational reviews and management reviews are commonplace. It’s how we monitor progress, quality, and identify needs for course corrections. We collect data and evaluate how we are doing against plans and budgets. It’s not simple. We’d rather be doing and “making things happen.” We might also struggle with being the messenger of bad news, or with admitting that we’re falling short. Truth is not always easy.

We need to focus with equal rigor on the soft variables of performance. If chronic patterns of tension, conflict, or strain are not being addressed, performance will suffer. If we're not sure of or confident of how to raise issues because they seem to imply difficult conversations, we must figure it out. If we’re tempted to respond defensively, territorially, or in other ways that divide, we must resolve it.

How Anticipation Pays Off

If we have “scoped” the task-oriented requirements for success as described above, we should have a "control panel" for evaluating progress and identifying on-track and off-track patterns of performance. We should also be able to specify needs for improvement. And if we’ve conceptualized the work as a team effort, we should be able to analyze flaws, faults, and needs for change systemically and avoid personalizing and blaming.

If we’ve attended to the soft variables (attitudes, feelings, behaviors) in a similarly systemic way, we should recognize that we all contribute to what is working or not working, feeling bad or feeling good. There should be a greater capacity for making conversations feel safe, open, and getting past any initial testiness. We should be able to examine our near-term production issues and longer-term capacity building aims.

Destiny Guided by a Calling


William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) - A Calling (1896)

Calling - a strong inner impulse toward a particular course of action or duty; impulse accompanied by conviction leading to a vocation.
— Merriam-Webster, Third New International Dictionary

The Mystery of Becoming

Personal development (PD) is a broad topic. For some it conveys associations with constructs of self and identity, and the natural progression of maturing as a person. It might also conjure thoughts of career-oriented skill building and learning. And that makes it seem like something purposive, psychologically-based growth and adaptation. It impliies something linear, predictable, even teachable.  

But that’s not what I have in mind. As a practical matter, PD is messier than that and less predictable. It requires persistence, tolerance for navigating the unresolved questions that face us, such as "What do I really want to do?" or perhaps "What is that I feel called to do?" Yes, this question of finding a calling may be most fundamental of all, for it leads directly to a message, meaning, purpose, even destiny. 

To Find Your Calling

The idea of a calling suggests the importance of hearing. It concerns a voice or message from outside, from beyond our current awareness. It's a message of singular importance for us as a person. There is the presumption of active, intelligent discrimination in our capacity for hearing. The heard is what I hear in a situated existence, shaped by my personal history, through filters of individual differences. 

If that sounds grandiose to you, perhaps it’s because you do not recognize the grandness of your own personhood, that you are uniquely individual in actuality and in potentiality. And that means that no one but you may be as well qualified to recognize the call from beyond which is meant for you. It must be heard with your ears, register in your heart, make sense in your mind and in your life situation. 

But because it originates from beyond, there will inevitably be something “foreign” in it at first hearing. It is not your calling yet, not until it is fully heard and understood. And as an understanding it is not yet yours. It must capture your heart, ignite your hopes and innermost strivings to be, which does not happen merely in pondering the message. It requires active exploration to become situated in your life. 

Being somewhat foreign, and originating from outside your current situation, it may lack concreteness. But as we take our first actions in exploration, it not only asserts its claim on us, we assert our claim on it. We may find ourselves entering a new community of others similarly called. It may feel like a rather loose grouping or affiliation at first, but there is likely some sort of “we-ness” in this calling. 

To Live Your Calling

One thing is surely important in finding your calling. It is the quality of mind – mind most broadly conceived – with which we consider our next-step actions. As we feel our enthusiasm growing to manic levels, it may be good to pause. Is this upward draft one of over-eager grasping? And when we indulge such impulses and later feel the deflation of learning they were mere delusions of grandeur, be kind to youraelf. 

Desire will frequently exert a pace and reach that is fired by emotional intensity and desperate needs. This is not be condemned as “mere passion.” It signals feelings that want to be heard and understood. Among them, may be feelings of exhaustion. Perhaps it's time for a break, a time of rest, or a time to simply be with our breath, to walk in nature, to care for others. Being precedes becoming.

A calling brings with it a course of action and a longer journey, a destiny. Fidelity to the value of listening and hearing will disclose the path of destiny. It's a journey of love if it is a true destiny. It is a generative path whose virtues include care, compassion, and steadfastness. It cannot be prefigured as if it were fate. Destiny is best understood after the fact of living the destiny, as evidenced as an expression of love.